The Hack’s Guide to Millennial Comedy

by Warren Wright

Edited by Al Bahmani

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The public’s idea of what a hack comedian is seems to be set in the 1980s. When we imagine a hack, we imagine the guy in a checkered suit telling jokes about airplane food. Some of the more prevalent hack topics included jokes about how men and women are different, Indian clerks at convenience stores, and fat people eating bacon cheeseburgers with a diet coke. With a vast demand for live performers in the 80’s, a comedy “boom” hit, and hit hard. The 15 + comedy clubs in every America city raked it in off of drink minimums, and still had the cash to pay hacks upwards of  $100,000 a year. Stand-up comedy had become another big economy in the Big Eighties. As all others, the market wasn’t ready for the future and couldn’t sustain itself. The club work dried up, and openers stopped making $1000 a show. Perhaps the market became over-saturated. It could have been the internet, which gave us access to all the comedy ever and thereby raising our standards. Perhaps widely-conceived clichés failed to be funny anymore.With the new Wifi Era  and its’ changing ethos of the day, hack comedy changed. Internet Apps changed the way we talk, and hacks took to the stage with new bits about,

Perhaps the market became over-saturated. It could have been the internet, which gave us access to all the comedy ever and thereby raising our standards. Perhaps widely-conceived clichés failed to be funny anymore.With the new Wifi Era  and its’ changing ethos of the day, hack comedy changed. Internet Apps changed the way we talk, and hacks took to the stage with new bits about, “How mean the comment section on Youtube can be”. Copy and pasted stock lines engulfed the mainstream lexicon. (“Party-foul!” “This is why we can’t have nice things!”). Hacks are now armed with a whole electronic world of easy, safe jokes regurgitated in a “share if you agree” format. The airplane food jokes of old have become “hipsters with smartphones” jokes.

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Describing Millennials

“These kids nowadays can’t change a tire!”

“So I went to (X college) and got a degree in (something useless). So I’m a barista”

“None of us will ever retire!”

Around 2008, the word “Millennial” became the hottest buzzword to describe the new crop of youth with far less money than their parents. According to journalists, they often are described as having useless college degrees or moving in back home with their parents. The journalists of the day described millennials in such generalized and blanketing terms that it seemed everybody between the ages of 18 and 30 lived an almost unanimous narrative. When they write about millennials, you can almost guarantee that the phrases “Skinny jeans” or “App-Savvy” or “Safe space” is soon to follow. “Millenial” had become an insult, and thereby something for hack comedians to exploit. Hack comedians and hack journalists both describe millennials tirelessly as narcissistic , nihilistic, and too sensitive to cope with reality. How many times have you heard the phrase “Everybody gets a trophy” this week? Hack social commentary begat hack comedy. Most of these easy generalizations  eventually find their way to the stage, and easy jokes are written about aimless deadbeats on social media.  So hipsters are known for taking pictures of their meal and putting it on Instagram. Who honestly gives a fuck?

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Lethargic, Self-Indulgent/ self-depreciating , Pizza/Taco Humor

“Have you ever smoked weed all day, indoors for 24 hours straight, and just binge-watching until you’re crying into your Whataburger? So I’m single. LADIES?!”

“I watched Netflix until it asked me ‘are you still watching?’. DON’T JUDGE ME, NETFLIX!”

“Some of my friends are becoming lawyers but pizza is my everything”

Scroll on Facebook for 2 minutes and you’ll come across this breed of humor. This is one of comedy’s lowest common denominators. It is the  bold declaration that binge-eating, laziness,and binge-watching will go on unabashedly. So many memes and comedians follow this formula to great success, as they resonate amongst the general public. The narrative of the everyman eating pizza and watching copious amounts of TV in the face of normalcy works so well because they are, in fact, telling jokes to people living in western society, all of whom are so familiar with this. We all enjoy lazy days indoors as we all have to work such long hours to get by. We all eat a lot of food. Sopranos-style cliffhanger television is as addictive as fuck and we’ve all been asked “Are you still watching?”. Normal, normal,normal. These jokes work amongst younger and older crowds, as sociologists have been warning us against binge-eating and binge-watching since as far back as the 50’s. This joke, however common , can be done in a clever and inventive way by very funny comedians. Honestly, I’d rather hear from the astronaut comedian tell jokes about his day job.

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Taking a Strong Stance on a Safe, Agreeable Platform

“So Donald Trump is evil. More like ‘Make America Hate Again’, amirite? ”

“They’re pro-life but they’ll still bomb an elementary school”

“You don’t beat your wife and crash your car stoned on weed. More like raid the fridge!”

It takes a true professional to get onstage, take a safe side on a sensitive subject, and still get laughs. However, a hack can take a safe side and get an easy “Gimme” applause break. (“Clap if you’re happy the gays can get married”. No shit, this is fucking Montrose). The so-called “Social Justice Hacks” are fairly prevalent, as there is a shit-load of injustice in the world. My college ethics professor had a running joke. He used to joke that “If you’ve read anything about slavery or the Holocaust, hopefully, your opinion on it is a negative one.” This joke always killed the class. The edgy should and always will beat out the safe in comedy. In politics, however, this trend is reversed. Politicians cannot be edgy, they must be voted in. When Obama mentions war, the message is “We need to keep America safe”, rather than “We need to go overseas and put landmines where children play”. On the Drug War, the message is  “We need to keep America safe from vicious cartels”, rather than “I think 15-year-olds should get ten years in prison over a joint”. When I imagine someone who thinks that is an acceptable policy, I imagine somebody very cruel and ignorant.The point being is that it is very, very difficult to elegantly articulate terrible, cruel ideas that will hurt a lot of innocent people. Granted, Hitler and Reagan had a gift. As we remember from the year 2008, Obama used to not be the first President in favor of Gay Marriage. One day at least 55% of Americans were pro-gay marriage, and so was he. What seemed to him taking a stand for truth and justice was essentially Obama taking a popular stance; the political equivalent of pandering. With politics as polarizing as ever, the “edgy” comedian doing a bit about legalizing weed is taking a very safe route as 50 million registered voters agree with him. Plus, Bill Hicks already said all of this shit years ago. Viewpoints on stage seen as cruel or ignorant will rarely yield laughs. It’s probably better to assume the audience you’re performing to is smart enough to know the difference between good and evil.

 

 

 

 

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Getting Sketchy this Christmas : Q&A w/ Microsatan

 

by Britt Vasicek

Edited by Al Bahmanimicrosatan

 Microsatan is a sketch writing collective in Houston, Tx that is more than what you expect from such a group. The shows are electric, eclectic and it feels like you are witnessing greatness happen. Each show is jam packed with stand-up, improv, music, and sketch comedy, Microsatan has managed to carve out a scene that is all their own. Sketch members Ned Gayle and Conner Clifton took some time out of their day and gave their views on sketches, zines and staying creative in a city that most would not associate with the creative.

What is Microsatan?

NED: MicroSatan is a self-proclaimed comedic art collective. Now don’t worry, we only called it that because we are pretentious pricks. The reason we use ‘art collective’ is due to the production that goes into our shows as well as our mission to create comedy across several mediums other than live performance (see MicroSatan Mag: A Zine).

We’ve been producing a brand new, hour-long sketch show/narrative play complete with original videos and music every month for the past year and a half.

CONNER: Well, that’s not fair. We started calling ourselves a “comedic art collective” because we wanted to produce works that went beyond staged sketch comedy and even move into the realm of interactive that- ok yeah, it’s pretentious. We’re just a sketch comedy group that makes zines sometimes.

What’s the origin story? How did Microsatan start? 

NED: MicroSatan started between Conner Clifton and Billy Trim. My involvement came before their first show. I recently reconnected with Conner at ZineFest Houston after meeting him 6 years before. He told me he was about to do a comedy talk show that weekend and I immediately asked if he needed anyone to do dumb characters for the show. He said, “actually, yeah.”

I had such a blast at the show and realized it was exactly what I was looking for to work on so I begged them to let me join. It only took 6 knuckle jobs and a case of beer to get them to agree!

CONNER: Once we had Ned involved, we started growing and growing. Some members have moved away, but we still consider them part of the MicroSatan family. PLEASE COME HOME.

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So, who is Microsatan?

NED: A bunch of fucking white dudes and Ruth Hirsch and Antoine Culbreath.

CONNER: Yeah. That’s…. That’s true. But one of the things that Billy and I set out to achieve when MicroSatan got its start was a growing community. MicroSatan works heavily with people who are not regularly in our writer’s room. We get to test the waters with new contributors in a very comfortable and familiar environment.

NED: I started my comedy career in Houston doing improv comedy with full intention to go into sketch writing. While I do enjoy improv immensely, I always saw it as a tool to work towards writing sketches; a more active/immersive way of shooting the shit and bouncing ideas.

Being a film student with a heavy editing background, it’s really fun for me to find a way to stylize sketches in the writing room.

Putting together sketches like the Chuck Tucker “tough lawyer commercial” and the “studio-style product commercial” for Chuglet (a milk inspired chocolate drink!) have been the most fun/rewarding for me to work on. It’s all about finding the balance of “I’ve seen something like that!” and “What the fuck was that?”

CONNER: What I love most about sketch writing, at least in this capacity, is the team environment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked in with an idea that I was super dedicated to and then someone makes a suggestion that is way funnier than anything I came up with or something that escalates my original idea to new heights. Also, is there anything more fun than writing jokes with your friends and trying to crack each other up? I really only work by myself when I’m making comics because that’s really the only thing I can have complete and total control over.

What is the sketch scene in Houston?

NED: There aren’t a lot of active sketch groups in Houston. Not to say there isn’t sketch- I’ve seen fantastic sketch shows produced by/at both BETA and Station theater- but there aren’t as many groups actively producing shows at the moment. There have been a lot of great ones over the years, though. My favorite, now defunct, group was Feelings- comprised of Antoine Culbreath and Amy Birkhead.

I used to produce sketch shows with Kelly Juneau under the name Ned Kelly (named after the famous Australian bush bandit, not our names). Be Kind to Strangers has been active for *eons* and they always amaze me with the amount of content they push out with pristine live production (their recent set at Trill Comedy Festival was awesome!).

CONNER: MicroSatan was really my first experience with sketch comedy in Houston. I mean, I had done Neo-Benshi a few times beforehand, but even that show is a reinterpretation of an existing piece of work; I never created something out of nothing for the stage in that capacity, nor was I aware of anyone else doing anything like it. That’s my fault, I really only had exposure to improv and stand-up and storytelling before diving into the sketch.

Stalk Show (Rest In Piece) was my favorite sketch show in town. If you’re not familiar, the premise was Hoja Lopez was a creepy obsessive stalker who would fall in love with someone new every month and the show would always be dedicated to that person. She, Stacey Daniels and Kathryn Way wrote some really cool and hilarious stuff on that show. Unfortunately, Stalk Show is no more, but I’ve heard that the three of them are already working on something new. Keep an eye out for ANYTHING they produce!

Have you taken this thing on tour?

NED: We went on a small Texas tour earlier this year going from Houston – San Antonio – Austin – Denton. Rather than stay overnight in Denton after our final show, we were so revved with the energy we decided to leave for Houston around midnight. Delirious and pumped full of adrenaline we called a Jesus Billboard and Conner, with his best concerned parent voice, confided in the poor operator about his son. He must’ve talked for 30 or 45 minutes with this guy about his son’s strayed path from Jesus and how he would attend “Satanic laughing shows” like MicroSatan. We were all dying (from laughter!).

CONNER: I made sure that the tour lined up so that we’d be performing in Austin on the day of my birthday. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. I really felt like MicroSatan had become my new family. After the tour, something clicked… We knew how everyone worked and what everyone could handle. We’re more of a unit after that tour.

Where do you see these projects taking you?

NED: I think we might take some time away from the live shows to work on larger video projects. This past year has been pretty hectic but we’ve really come into our own as a writers room. None of our upcoming projects are set in stone but I’m extremely confident in whatever we try to tackle next. I’d like to concentrate on projects outside of sketch such as expanding our zine, working on weirdo art shows and working on games (Conner is becoming quite the coding wizard).

CONNER: I’d like to slow down the whole “having a show every month” thing. I’d rather take the time to put together a show with a high production value. My big inspirations are the tightly packaged plots of Mr. Show and the over-the-top glamor and choreography of Busby Berkeley. I’d love to have a show full of musical numbers with showgirls swimming in blood fountains while Satan sings about eternal suffering, fully backed by a choir of demons.

Tell me about this Christmas Special coming up!

NED: I am very excited for this! Last year we modeled our Xmas special around the classic Christmas special format (mainly from the critically un-acclaimed Star Wars Holiday Special) where our stars of the show host a variety show of characters, songs, and stories. The format this year will be very similar, but with a new story.

CONNER: This has been a shitty year. Even before the election, you had plenty to complain about, regardless of your political leanings. Now, everything seems to be coming to a head and we’re all expected to put on a smile and celebrate the holidays as if nothing is wrong. The main thing we want you to walk away from this special with is a glimmer of hope that yes, you CAN enjoy the holidays despite having over 300 days of terrible news leading up to it.

Microsatan is excited to share their hard work with you and I can personally say there isn’t a better way to celebrate your holiday.

This holiday season Microsatan is putting on a Christmas Special with a tale that is guaranteed to be unlike any Christmas story you’ve ever heard. The event will take place at Midtown Bar & Grill in the upstairs room on December 9th at 10pm.

You can like their Facebook page here to keep up with their projects and RSVP for the event here to make sure you don’t miss this amazing show.

Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club-Beaumont Picture Gallery

By Steven Padilla

A new comedy club has opened up.  It’s not in Houston, but it’s close.  The Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club in Beaumont had its grand opening on Friday, August 17th.  Here are some pictures of the new comedy club.

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The Bob Biggerstaff Interview

By Steven Padilla

In 1991, Bob Biggerstaff was a student at the University of Houston.  One day a comedian came to the school a day before he was to perform.  He was in search of a few people to go on stage before him to start the show.  Bob was one of the guys picked.  That was his first time on stage.  He wouldn’t get back on stage until 1997.  It was then that he became a door man at the Laff Stop.  A few months later, The Laff Stop had started an open mic. That was when he started focusing on comedy.  His first paying gig was in 1999 and he became a regular in 2000.  3 years later, he went on to win Houston’s Funniest Person Contest.  In 2007 he was a semi-finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing.  Nowadays he is touring the country.  He frequents the open mics in Houston, telling jokes and/or playing Golden Tee.

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